The Justice Department has charged two Iranians with spying on Jewish and opposition groups in the U.S., and the court documents suggest Tehran’s hard-line Islamic regime is hunting for bombing and assassination targets.
Ahmadreza Doostdar and Majid Ghorbani were indicted on charges of being illegal agents of a foreign power — Iran.
On a wiretap, Mr. Ghorbani, a California resident, is heard singling out an opposing figure for assassination. “M———F needs one, one shot,” he said.
The charges were filed as President Trump embarked on a get-tough policy toward Iran, which the State Department has designated as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Mr. Trump this spring pulled out of the 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran negotiated by the Obama administration and has embarked on a campaign to get other countries to join the U.S. in reapplying economic sanctions against Tehran.
The Justice Department charging documents say the two men specifically targeted Jewish centers in Chicago as well as an anti-regime opposition rally in New York last year and a convention in Washington this year.
The New York protest was organized by Mojahedin-e Khalq, an exiled Iranian dissident group known as the MEK. The MEK is the main component of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the umbrella group calling for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling mullahs. Iran has been the scene of anti-regime street protests for months.
“The government of Iran considered the MEK to be a primary opponent of the current regime and has sought to eradicate the MEK,” said an FBI affidavit.
The affidavit said the Iranians created a “target package” that “could enable a neutralization plan, which may include apprehension, recruitment, cyber exploitation, or capture/kill operations.”
Iran has targeted foes in Europe for eradication, but pursuing such plans on U.S. soil would represent an escalation in the clash with the West. European police broke up a suspected Iranian plot to ignite a bomb at an MEK rally outside Paris this summer.
The Iranian regime denounces the MEK as a terrorist organization, noting its presence on the U.S. terrorist organization list from 1993 to 2012. Gholamali Khoshroo, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council demanding that the U.S. drop its support of the organization and complaining of the links between the group and top advisers to President Trump such as National Security Adviser John R. Bolton and presidential attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Documents show how easily Iranian saboteurs can move in and out of the U.S., even with Iran now on the list of seven countries named in the Trump administration’s travel ban.
Mr. Doostdar, who has dual citizenship, was born in Long Beach, California, but has spent most of his life in Canada and Iran.
Mr. Ghorbani was raised in Iran. In 2015, he became a U.S. legal permanent resident and lives in Costa Mesa, California.
An FBI search of Mr. Doostdar’s electronic devices showed he canvassed a number of targets. In July 2017, he traveled from Tehran to Chicago.
The FBI placed him under physical surveillance and followed him to the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago.
“Doostdar moved through the museum in an unusual fashion and was alone in a small room with an unidentified female for a short time,” the affidavit said.
He then left the museum, walked a few blocks and began photographing several Jewish centers, such as the Hillel Center and Rohr Chabad Center.
Later, he traveled to Costa Mesa and met with Mr. Ghorbani for the first time.
“Doostdar employed intelligence tradecraft and ran surveillance detection routes before, during and after his meetings with Ghorbani,” the FBI said.
It was Mr. Ghorbani who surveilled the MEK at a New York rally and photographed individual anti-regime protesters.
Mr. Doostdar entered the U.S. again in December. Immigration officials discovered $6,000 in cash, which he claimed was money to repay a brother. He denied meeting with anyone on his previous U.S. visit.
He traveled again to Costa Mesa. A wiretap captured a phone call to Mr. Ghorbani during which Mr. Doostdar identified himself as “Uncle Sohrab.”
The FBI listened to their car ride as Mr. Ghorbani delivered a briefing on his New York trip.
“I took some pictures and collected some information of them and some senators that they worked with,” he said.
Mr. Doostdar instructed him on how to mix his photos with family pictures in a flash drive to avoid arousing suspicions of customs agents at airports. “I notice they don’t search these at all. I put it right in front of them. They didn’t even open it,” he said.
He said he would take the photos back to Iran.
“I will give it to the guys to do their research,” he said.
When Mr. Doostdar left the U.S. in December, authorities inspected his checked luggage and found the rally photographs. The FBI affidavit said he ultimately provided the drive to the Iranian government.
Mr. Ghorbani left the U.S. for Iran in March and returned a month later. A luggage search showed he had instructions on future MEK spying.
By then, Mr. Ghorbani had infiltrated MEK associates as a supposed ally. He was invited to attend a convention in Washington in May. FBI surveillance showed Mr. Ghorbani constantly taking photographs of attendees.
Mr. Doostdar returned to the U.S. in July, this time with $16,000 in cash.
“The policy of appeasement has so emboldened the clerical regime that it has directly targeted the U.S. soil with its Iranian agents, something unprecedented in the past 40 years,” said Ali Safavi, an opposition official based in Washington. “For this reason, all of Tehran’s known and undercover agents and mercenaries who pursue the regime’s plots in the U.S. must be identified and prosecuted.”
Mr. Safavi attended the New York rally. His name is mentioned by Mr. Ghorbani as an assassination target.
Said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, “Doostdar and Ghorbani are alleged to have acted on behalf of Iran, including by conducting surveillance of political opponents and engaging in other activities that could put Americans at risk. With their arrest and these charges, we are seeking to hold the defendants accountable.”